Monday, February 28, 2011
Today I picked up a copy of Godine's book Blues Faces: A Portrait of the Blues by Samuel and Ann Charters. Flipping through the pages, I was impressed by the history and stories behind some of the genre's iconic and influential musicians. The photographic portraits that illustrate the book helped me connect to artists like Muddy Waters (whose name I knew) while also introducing me to the likes of Bukka White (whom I didn't know). I have not listened to a great deal of the blues, but a description that read "With the first line of his blues there was the unmistakable falsetto voice and the subtly intricate guitar accompaniment that had set an indelible mark on his first recordings" caught my attention.
A few clicks later, I was watching this clip of Skip James from 1967:
And now, before I sign off to listen to some Willie Dixon, a quick, entertaining story about Buddy Guy:
"One night when I was watching Buddy at the Fillmore he jumped down off the stage to do his variation of the old theatre routine. His specialty was to go out into the crowd playing his guitar, while the band on the stage kept playing the riff behind him until he climbed back up to join them. But for this show . . . when he got to the end of the long guitar cord that plugged him back in to the amplifier on stage, he handed the guitar to three or four people who were sitting in the middle of the dance floor. Instead of playing he kept on through the crowd singing his blues over and over while the band kept pumping out the chords for him on stage . . . He went on singing and working his way through the entire building . . . When Buddy finally got back to the dance floor, a little hoarse by now and wringing wet with perspiration, most of the crowd had gathered around the group in the middle of the floor where he had dropped his guitar. Without noticing what he was doing, Buddy had handed it to Elvin Bishop, guitarist with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. After a few choruses Elvin started to play, and now Buddy couldn't get through the crowd to get the guitar back . . . When he caught his breath he had to ask nervously for whoever was playing his guitar to please bring it back to him."
Friday, February 25, 2011
Like many good fables, this story opens with a foundling left – rather inconveniently, if not surprisingly – in the woods. A large lizard, ever conscious of tripping hazards, picks up the infant and takes her home, where she soon grows into a pretty, pampered, and generally useless young woman named Isabella. Despite her adoptive mother's efforts (for the lizard is really a sorceress in disguise) to shape her up, the girl prefers the alluring life offered her by the charming Prince Rupert, a world of cooks and servants, palaces and jewels, luxury and indolence.
Luckily, the lizard woman is a canny, concerned parent. She does not suffer fools lightly and is not about to let her daughter's too-easy transition to palace life go unchallenged. And so she arranges a surprise transformation for her daughter – one that puts the prince's marital plans on hold and gives the sorceress just enough time to hammer home a few lessons about the downside of idleness, the inanity of vanity, and the satisfactions of self-reliance.
In this witty, modern interpretation of a classic Italian folktale, Leah Marinsky Sharpe has crafted a light-hearted mother-daughter fable with a moral that is sure to strike a chord with readers of all ages. The illustrations by Jane Marinsky glow with rich color and playful humor. Together, words and pictures provide a zesty treat for parents and children alike.
Illustrator Jane Marinsky has created a Facebook page for book and is randomly selecting one lucky person to receive a signed copy of The Goat-Faced Girl from the first 200 people who "like" her page. Show your support and enter the contest here!
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Godine's forthcoming paperback edition of Sugar on Snow. This lovely picture book will be available starting in early March. In the story, a father, his two sons, and one dog rise (very early) to the occasion and set off at dawn to the sugar bush to begin the maple sugaring process. We see the entire family involved – Mom preparing the meals, Dad steering the big John Deere tractor through the fields, and the two sons, Seth and Ethan, learning how to steer, collecting the buckets, and replacing them on the spouts and, of course, the loyal hound Chloe (probably the only dog so named on any farm in New England) trotting along for the ride.
Today Nan shares a wonderful essay on maple sugaring for our dear readers to enjoy. I guarantee that after reading this you'll want to head out to the closest maple sugaring shack (if you're lucky enough to be within driving distance of one!).
“How does a man know when to set his spiles?
. . . He sees the winter robins venturing out more often into his pastureland . . . he sees the faint amber glow in the willow tips, and he sees a subtle livening in the red osier stems. He has seen the grouse come down to his apple trees for a taste of apple buds, and though he can’t see the change he knows those buds must have begun to swell . . .
So he sets his first few spiles, and a few mild days and frosty nights start the sap dripping. When the sap rises you can begin to count the days till spring. Winter isn’t over, but its days now are numbered.”
This is one of many wonderful observations written, long ago, by New York Times nature editorialist, Hal Borland. The countryman, who is often referred to in Borland’s prose, has a keen sensitivity to nature . . . to shadow and light . . . and to the slow, deliberate change of the seasons. And at this time of year, Borland’s timeless words warm the winter weary heart!
It is indeed almost sugaring season in these parts, and there’s not a yummier reason on earth to corral the kids and head north. Sugar houses are scattered all across the New England states, as well as in upstate New York. With a little bit of online research, it’s very easy to find a destination. Maple festivals and open houses abound, especially as we draw closer to March.
Some sugar houses are off the beaten path, but one sure sign that you’re on the right road will be when a youngster, keeping attentive watch from the back seat, exclaims, “There are buckets on the trees . . . ” Another telltale sign will be the huge plumes of steam billowing into the air. So, when you step out of the car, prepare to be seduced by the heady sweet scent of maple. (And hopefully you’ve worn boots because March is also mud season!)
Once inside the sugar house, history is shared and lessons are unwittingly learned . . . just by standing near the tremendous evaporator, listening to the stories, and watching the sap slowly cook down. The youngsters will be amazed to find out just how many gallons of the clear, watery liquid it takes to make one gallon of syrup.
For some in the family, the best part of the trip will be the gift shop where temptations abound: samples of syrup, sugar on snow, maple candy, and maple soft serve ice cream . . . Yum! But, most importantly, don’t forget to bring home some real maple syrup to have on pancakes that night!
Who knows? This great family adventure might turn out to be a favorite family tradition!
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Each Tuesday, we’ll offer up a Superior Word for the edification of our Superior Readers, via the volumes of the inimitable Peter Bowler. You can purchase all or any of the four Superior Person’s Books of Words from the Godine website. Birl appears in the Second.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
The Philosopher's Diet: How to Lose Weight and Change the World, a toothsome classic, takes on the combined challenges of discovering the meaning of the universe and eliminating fat at the same time. Its topic sentence contains a promise that should sell millions: "In this book, I tell how to take weight off and keep it off. The book also embodies a philosophy of life. The weight program is the content of the book, the philosophy of life is its form."
Personally, I could stand to put author Richard Watson’s platform of eating and living well into practice. Like the rest of America, my New Year’s resolutions lasted all of two weeks. In fact, at this very moment, I’m chowing down on McNuggets and fries. My excuse? The total for this fried feast was only $2.17! (And I am an intern, so I’m not exactly making the big bucks.) How to cut back my shameless consumption of fatty foods? Watson offers a few solutions: “ . . . you could live in a monastery cell where exactly 1200 calories – no more, no less – were provided each day for seventy-five days . . . ” (Problem: I think the monks would object, seeing as I’m a girl.), “ . . . pitch your microwave oven into the garbage and swear off processed foods” (Problem: My husband would object.), or remodel the kitchen so that cooking is more enjoyable (Problem: My landlord would object.).
Thankfully, Watson recognizes we aren’t all in a position to make such grandiose life changes. For us, he offers more practical suggestions – simple recipes that won’t break the bank.
The office favorite: The Philosopher’s Recipe for Bran Muffins, page 41.
Set the oven at 425 degrees. Grease a 6-hole muffin tin.
Mix together dry:
one cup of bran
one-half cup of whole-wheat flour
one-half cup of one of the following:
one-half teaspoon of baking soda
one-half teaspoon of baking powder
a pinch of salt (optional)
Push the mix to one side of the bowl and into the space provided break one egg, add two tablespoons of animal or vegetable oil (e.g., butter, lard, safflower or corn oil).
Beat with a fork until egg yoke and white are mixed. Add one cup of yogurt or buttermilk or sour milk or sweet milk to the mix.
Stir with wooden spoon only enough to mix the ingredients together and so that everything is damp.
Spoon into muffin tin. Bake for 20 to 24 minutes.
These muffins contain about 150 calories each. If you eat two of them a day, you will get enough bran to fill normal roughage requirements.
The way to make these muffins sweet, if you want, is to add raisins or blueberries or any kind of dried or fresh fruit. A mashed banana added to the mix makes the muffins taste and smell delicious. You can add wheat flakes or oat flakes or wheat germ or germinated whole grains or sunflower seeds or nuts. Better use an 8-hole tin if you add much fruit.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Nympholepsy n. Not a convulsive condition of nubiles, but a passionate longing for something unattainable. A sufferer is a nympholept. The condition is named after the supposed result of looking upon a nymph, an act which, according to legend, produced a frenzy of enthusiastic emotion in the looker-upon. In modern parlance, you could use the term to refer to the passion of a vintage-car enthusiast for an impossibly expensive Bugatti; or of a bibliophile for a Shakespeare First Folio; or, let's face it, of a voluptuary manque (q.v.) for a nymphomaniac.
Each Tuesday, we’ll offer up a Superior Word for the edification of our Superior Readers, via the volumes of the inimitable Peter Bowler. You can purchase all or any of the four Superior Person’s Books of Words from the Godine website. Nympholepsy appears in the First.
Monday, February 14, 2011
— Los Angeles Times
Black Sparrow author Wanda Coleman has three poems in the Winter 2010-2011 issue of Ploughshares. Here's a recent post from the Ploughshare's blog featuring a lovely contributor's note from Coleman:
the java fires the lava flowing in my brain
hot wet sex-rider screaming stains
black cold heart bleeds lightning and rain
Coleman talks about the impact other poets and art have on her and shares a bit of the back story for each of her three poems:
Often my acts of creation are acts of “re-creation,” as I struggle to encapsulate an experience, feeling, observation (rehumanizing the dehumanized), or attempt to distill the moment. Occasionally, I reach for and touch the soul of another, entering their realm, bringing them into mine. Poets of power (Jeffers, Plath, Lorca, Antonius) draw me into them and hold me in their joyous spells. When I come out of the trance, I am better for having read and for having been embraced. In “Noise (3)” I continue my aesthetic—sometimes humorous—polemic on urban life below the poverty line where one (i/me/myself/we) must constantly struggle to maintain focus against a ceaseless onslaught of disturbances. “Ashes . . . ” reveals that part of my psyche which yearns to reconnect with my deceased oldest son. “The Mingus Effect” exemplifies my classroom assertion that art feeds art, and serves as a reminder that writing may be fun. Inspiration may be the descriptive word used to sum up the process, but it seems inadequate, given where I’m coming from—so I’ll let my poems continue speaking for themselves.
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
In 1987 Paul Auster reviewed Life: A User’s Manual (see post for Monday, January 31, 2011), including in his review the following comment: “Those who have read a great deal will no doubt recognize passages that quote directly or indirectly from other writers – Kafka, Agatha Christie, Melville, Freud, Rabelais, Nabokov, Jules Verne and a host of others – but failure to recognize them should not be considered a handicap.” But is there a quote-recognition handicap in today’s technologically savvy and search-engine powered society? Adam Kirsch of the Wall Street Journal discussed his views on this subject last month in the article “Literary Allusion in the Age of Google.”
One of my favorite stories from World War II concerns the great British travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor, who in 1944 led the daring mission to kidnap the commander of the German forces occupying Crete. The general, Karl Heinrich Kreipe, was held captive in a mountain cave, where one morning the sunrise brought into view the snow-covered peak of Mount Ida.
Gen. Kreipe, who had studied the classics, began to recite a famous Latin ode by Horace, which opens with the image of a mountain that "stands white with deep snow"—whereupon Mr. Fermor, who also knew it by heart, joined in and finished the poem. The men's eyes met, and a long silence ensued. "It was very strange," Mr. Fermor recalled. "As though, for a long moment, the war had ceased to exist."
Mr. Fermor's story, from his memoir "A Time of Gifts," is like a fable about the paradoxical power of allusion. Speech and writing are supposed to be most powerful when most sincere. To quote is to use someone else's words, which ought to make that kind of immediacy impossible. Yet when two people—a captor and a prisoner, or a couple of friends or (most often) a writer and a reader—can share an allusion, it creates a remarkable intimacy. If you can recognize a writer's borrowing, it is because the two of you know something that other people don't.
In this sense, literary allusion is exclusive, even aristocratic—which is why it's hard for anyone writing in 21st-century America to pull it off. Even if you stick to English, it is almost impossible to be confident that your audience knows the same books you do. It doesn't matter whether you slip in "April is the cruelest month," or "To be or not to be," or even "The Lord is my shepherd"—there's a good chance that at least some readers won't know what you're quoting, or that you're quoting at all.
What this means is that, in our fragmented literary culture, allusion is a high-risk, high-reward rhetorical strategy. The more recondite your allusion, the more gratifying it will be to those who recognize it, and the more alienating it will be to those who don't. To risk an unidentified quotation, you have to have a pretty good sense of your audience: Psalms would be safe enough in a sermon, "The Waste Land" in a literary essay or college lecture, Horace just about nowhere.
In the last decade or so, however, a major new factor has changed this calculus. That is the rise of Google, which levels the playing field for all readers. Now any quotation in any language, no matter how obscure, can be identified in a fraction of a second. When T.S. Eliot dropped outlandish Sanskrit and French and Latin allusions into "The Waste Land," he had to include notes to the poem, to help readers track them down. Today, no poet could outwit any reader who has an Internet connection.
As a result, allusion has become more democratic and more generous. If you quote an obscure book today, you're not shutting the reader out but extending an invitation for him to track it down and make it his own. Here, as in so many areas of life and literature, the Internet abolishes secrets and hierarchies, offering universal access to "the best that has been thought and said in the world."
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Each Tuesday, we’ll offer up a Superior Word for the edification of our Superior Readers, via the volumes of the inimitable Peter Bowler. You can purchase all or any of the four Superior Person’s Books of Words from the Godine website. Galeanthropy appears in the Second.
Friday, February 4, 2011
"Book cover design is a strange exercise in which one attempts to distill iconic imagery from hundreds of pages of text. Engaging the audience is the name of the game here and it’s interesting to see how the different audiences and sensibilities on either side of the Atlantic can result in very different looks. The American covers are on the left, and clicking through takes you to a larger image. Your equally inexpert analysis is encouraged in the comments."
Room by Emma Donoghue, a book I recently enjoyed and highly recommend is featured:
Thursday, February 3, 2011
"In my quest to understand the life, work and impact of Jane Jacobs, I have read almost every book, by or about Jane. One book that I had put off reading was Genius of Common Sense: Jane Jacobs and the Story of The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Glenna Lang and Marjory Wunsch. It wasn’t a priority for me, as the book is targeted to young reader and I thought it would be too basic given my knowledge of Jane and her writings.
Genius of Common Sense is a must read for anybody interested in the life and work of Jane Jacobs. While indeed meant for young adults, the clear and concise writing provides a great introduction to the queen of urbanism. It’s a quick and easy—but nonetheless compelling—read.
The book takes you on a journey from Jane’s earliest days in Scranton, through her early days in New York to her battles with Robert Moses and the publication of Death and Life, and ultimately to her move to Toronto. It also talks about the people and instances that influenced her and her thinking. It is packed with details often overlooked in more academic texts, including her unruliness in grade school and her fascination with manhole covers.
The book includes excellent illustrations by the authors and rarely seen photographs of Jane and her family. It concludes with excellent appendices, including a bibliography, a chronology of Jane’s live and detailed chapter notes.Genius of Common Sense was written to bring alive the life of Jane Jacobs for any teenager wondering how s/he can make a difference in the world. It surpasses this goal and will inspire people of all ages to get involved in their community."
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Each Tuesday, we’ll offer up a Superior Word for the edification of our Superior Readers, via the volumes of the inimitable Peter Bowler. You can purchase all or any of the four Superior Person’s Books of Words from the Godine website. Piaffer appears in the Third.